Many of us have a fear of conflict. We’d rather smile and keep the peace than stir up ire. But when we avoid conflict, we fail to take responsibility for maintaining healthy relationships. Avoidance temps us toward bitterness, self-pity, or gossip which threatens the connection we have with those close to us. If the thought of conflict makes you want to run for the hills, read on for tips on how to welcome the blessings that healthy conflict can bring.
1. Intimacy, Not Victory
Conflict does not require a winner and a loser. In fact, healthy conflict often leads to greater understanding and a deeper connection between two people. It is through struggle that we fortify our ideals, clarify our values, and gain insight into the minds of those we care about. The goal of conflict within the family is intimacy, not victory. My son and I sometimes disagree about his video game use. He doesn’t like the limits I impose. But when I explain my goal is to serve him and protect him from harm, he knows I respect and care for him. I rarely acquiesce to his requests for extra time, but these difficult conversations lead to deeper intimacy between us. He knows I love him enough to tell him what he doesn’t want to hear when it’s for his own good.
2. Leave a Conflict Resolution Legacy
Kids will handle conflict better as adults if they are exposed to healthy conflict resolution as children. When we model healthy conflict resolution we offer our kids useful tools for the future. Our kids already experience conflict regularly—on the bus, on the playing field, and at school. The sooner we show them conflict can lead to connection rather than destruction, the better off they’ll be.
3. Conflict Enriches All of Us
If we never disagreed on anything, we wouldn’t be challenged to learn new things, grow in compassion, or discover new ideas. It is through conflict that we come to value varying perspectives and expand our world to embrace the richness of new insights. Five years into our marriage my husband suggested we move from Portland, OR to New York City. It was right around the time I thought we should start a family. We had a conflict on our hands. But as we engaged in that disagreement and dared to listen to the other’s perspective, we each learned the value of the other’s way of seeing things. We learned that we can both be right, even when we don’t agree, and through mutual respect, we found a way forward.
Tell us! How has a conflict in the past helped you better understand someone in your family?